Friday, June 16, 2017

A Man I'll Never Forget

You know that thing we call the "public personality"? That is, the best side of ourselves that we present to the world. We often joke about this, especially when our real self is something quite different. Bill Cosby might be an example of that, or countless others that seemed like somebody nice, when underneath it all, they were nothing like that. Irvin Snodgrass, seemed to have a public personality that was too nice to be believed...and let me tell you, I waited over 40 years to see a crack in that persona and never saw it. He had that special knack of greeting me with "Edward!" (emphasis on ward) like he hadn't seen me in years and that greeting lasted a lifetime. He was truly one of the few people I've ever met that didn't have a mean bone in his body. 
He was the personality at Snodgrass Hardware, at the art shows, at sporting events. If there was a gift he truly, deeply had, it was the gift of making friends of strangers. Wherever we went, he had stories and somebody that was glad to hear them. 

He was that thing that is so hard to find these days, an old Florida boy. From the story about going up into the cave at the head of the spring at Rock Springs as a teenager, catching alligators, to being the pitcher for the senior fast-pitch league. I'd have to say that my love of adventure had to come from trying to keep up with this guy. The strange thing is that most of what I remember comes from his middle life, and he had more adventures than most of us before that time. If you knew him, you knew he liked to drive and that there was always going to be a shortcut, and you would end up somewhere in the dark, or soon after. The only thing that could make him stop somewhere on a trip was a big game on TV. Of course that big game could have been the national Little League Championships, but if there wasn't a sports event on the TV, exploring in the car needed doing.

Most of us have Irvin to thank for our love of fishing. He didn't collect rods and reels, lures, and tons of fishing stuff, he'd just borrow somebody else's and go out and catch fish. For Irv, fishing meant get in the boat, find a good spot and get out of the boat. He brought up 2 generations of kids that have no fear of the water, and as the guy that married into this clan, I had to go against my natural born fear of what was in the water where I couldn't see it.
I can still remember being 19 years old and standing in Redfish pass, side by side with what seemed like dozens of fishermen hauling in snook after snook. Irvin said to me, "You'd better remember this day, because you'll never see another like it." He was right, and I can also remember taking my lumps because I was the only one there afraid of sticking my hand in the bucket with the live shrimp....even Pam was making fun of me. You had to grow a thick skin quick with this family.

Yes, you needed a thick skin, because quite early in your membership to the family, you learned about Irv's love of hiding your food. Not just any food, but the thing you wanted most, maybe a hamburger, maybe a dessert, but if you looked away at the wrong time, it would disappear. There wasn't a kid in the family that didn't know to say, "I didn't want that food anyway" no matter how hungry they were.  Nope, trips and family get-togethers were never boring and we now have 2 generations of kids that hide food and put hot sauce on each other's wings.

I would love to get in a time machine and go back and see Irvin with his friends in high school and college and see some of the stories he told me about from his youth. Even if half of them were true, it would be enough.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Back On The Hike Again: Not The End Of The Journey

If you ever decide to do this thing, you will probably be like me, looking at enjoying some backpacking without ever being able to do this one great achievement: hike the whole AT in one year. Paul, has been at this, doing section by section on summer vacations for over 12 years. He is what is known as a Long-Ass-Section-Hiker. He has seen some of the best parts of the AT, but will never know the feeling that one must get hiking over 2000 miles in one summer. But....he and I both know that our journey continues, because as long as there are sections that he hasn't covered, we have some hiking to do. Hikers often refer to the mental aspect of the trip, which seems strange at first, I mean, all you do is grab a pack and put one foot in front of the other, what's so mental about that? This isn't climbing Mount Everest or some other herculean feat. The mental part is the part that keeps you going when your body starts questioning why you ever wanted to do it in the first place. Mentally, I am very prepared for this, in fact, I have this argument with myself almost ever single morning while running. "Who cares if you finish today? Let's just stop here at 7-Eleven and get a donut!" Yes, I deal with mental issues every morning, so the trail held nothing new there for me. For me, the really big surprise was that it all seemed like the Wizard of Oz. We were on some kind of quest and everyone we met along the way had a little bit of something to add to our knowledge needed to complete our quest. For me, a big part of my quest was to find out how I could learn to sleep at night while backpacking. Paul's quest was to find the world's lightest backpack. As I look back at our journey, I realize that it truly was the people along the way that made it the adventure we had hoped for.
Paul remarked more than once, that backpacking was one of the few times in life where he was totally there in the moment, not multi-tasking or thinking about what he had to do the next day. He was right, my brain that usually has a million things going on, even while running, was merely thinking about how good that banana was, or dipping my shirt in the next stream. We were down to the very basic needs, and one thing I really liked was that every single thing I had to worry about was in one little backpack. Life was simple for a minute, and the rest of the world could take care of itself.
At one point I saw that the whole trail is just a metaphor for life and that whether or not we get to Maine at some point is way less important than our interactions with each other. I was starting to feel like I might be really approaching enlightenment on this trip.
Paul then remarked that sleeping in the 30 degree chill last night was the best sleep he'd ever had...ever. It was probably the new air pillow he had just purchased at the outfitter store. Yes, there is nothing like a good night's sleep in the great outdoors....I slowly unclenched my fist and practiced deep breathing until enlightenment returned....

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Back On The Hike Again: In Which I Am Almost Eaten By A Ferocious Animal

If you have followed me on the trail this far, you must know that I live in fear of being attacked by a wild animal. Maybe it was the books my Dad gave me to read when I was a kid. Stuff by Jack London and guys like that, usually involving some loner guy almost taken by wild animals when one of the pack stands up to the others and saves him. If the book was really good, the heroic animal is mortally wounded and the man finally realizes it was his old faithful companion that had returned to the wild...sniff. Yeah, those were stupid kids books, but I still remember the parts about being hunted by beasts in the woods. Paul, meanwhile, hasn't a care in the world. He knows so much karate, that I'm sure he is certain he could handle anything that comes his way. Every once in while I gently remind him that there has never been a case of a hiker fending off a savage animal attack with karate skills, but he is not worried like me.
As it turned out, I wasn't wrong to worry about attacks, I was just worrying about the wrong animals...

We were climbing a steady ascent to the shelter on top of a mountain. This was to be our last night on the trail and it was the middle of the week, so we expected to have the whole place to ourselves, and from the location on the map, I could count on getting a great sunrise photo in the morning. I was in the woods, less than two days from all the food I could eat, a bed, a shower, and today the weather was fantastic and I was feeling fine. You know those trips you go on when someone keeps asking "Are we almost there?" That was going on in my head. The GPS seemed to have completely stopped and about every 15 minutes we look and see that we still had a mile to go. There is a thing about mirages when hiking and we called this one the "Shelter Mirage". We'd keep spotting what looked like a rooftop or an outhouse off in the distance only to find nothing when we got there. The sun was going down, and we were still going up, up, up. It really seemed like this was the longest mile I could remember of the whole trip. When we were finally almost there, there was no mirage to tell us that, there were the loud voices of a large group of people laughing and carrying on. I suddenly realized that we might not be staying at the shelter after all if it was already full. We came into a camp of about 10 people that welcomed us with open arms and soon we were all best friends, sharing stories and DIY tips for backpacking. It turned out to be one of the best nights of the trip. Here we met the young women that had quit their jobs to do the whole AT this summer, 2 other couples that were hiking with them and some guys that were just up there for the weekend. It was here that I tried my first and last Ramen Bomb, which is mixing Ramen Noodles with instant mashed potatoes. The mixture doesn't taste bad, it just has the consistency of mashed potatoes with worms floating around in it. We learned a lot from this group, but probably my most important lesson was don't move too fast around a woman with a protective german shepherd. I'm a dog lover if there ever was one, but I do understand that not every dog loves me. Bridger the dog, did like me and just about everybody, but I went to get something out of my pack that happened to be behind his owner and I found myself with kingsize jaws gripping my hand and leg. That was coupled with a growl to let me know how much trouble I was in. His owner called him off and the rest of the time we were together she worried about her dog and tried to make him apologize to me. Instead I got more of an "I got my eye on you!" from the dog, who would then walk over to Paul and ask to be petted. I took it as a compliment, that I looked like somebody rough and tough, while Paul looked like an innocent person that would be good for some petting while Bridger kept his eye on the troublemaker.
Jack London had not prepared me to watch out for man's best friend.